The first topic to cover is equipment. It’s important to have everything you need when you head out for a photograph; the worst feeling in photography is arriving to an epic scene only to find you’ve left a crucial part of your kit behind. Because I’m a huge advocate for making the best out of what you have, this post won't go into much depth on "the best" gear on the market. Let’s just cover the basics and get you outside shooting.
To follow along in this series and the next, you’ll need a camera that can shoot RAW files. If you’re nervous about editing, you can usually choose a setting to capture a JPEG and RAW file simultaneously. This way, you have a fall-back file in case editing doesn’t go well (but be optimistic!). Currently, I use the Canon Rebel t3i. There are endless choices for a DSLR, but suffice it to say, you can create great work with any camera in your price range. I strongly recommend against upgrading your equipment solely for the purpose of having something new.
Do you know how close your subject is to your shooting location? If not, it’s best to bring a variety of focal lengths with you. Many people rely on zoom lenses, but I prefer primes for their superior sharpness, and generally wider apertures. That said, I still use zoom lenses from time to time when necessary. Regardless of your preference, you’ll want to cover a good focal length range. I use the Canon EF-s 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, Canon EF-s 24mm f/2.8 STM, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, and the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. Every one of those lenses has come in handy at some point, and I also have a 1.4x extender for the bigger glass to extend that range even further.
I don’t know of a landscape photographer who shoots regularly without a circular polarizer filter. CPLs can reduce reflective glare and add detail to skies, and are a necessity if you are wanting to take your photography to a new level. Neutral density filters are dark pieces of glass that cover the lens and facilitate increased exposure times. These are a must if you’re hoping to capture long exposure cloud movement, or if you want to achieve a smooth water effect. Graduated ND filters are helpful in balancing a sky and a foreground, reducing the work you must do later, and sometimes saving detail in the original file. More to come on all these ideas. LEE filters are the standard these days, but I use Cokin P-series filters. Currently, my kit includes the Cokin P164 Circular Polarizer, P154 3-stop ND Filter, NUANCES 10-stop ND Filter, and the P121S Graduated ND Filter. These filters require an adapter ring and a filter holder.
Unless you’re in a tight space, I always recommend using a tripod. A camera with no shake is always going to produce sharper images than a hand-held camera using image stabilization. Your tripod depends on what you photograph; I use the Sirui W-2204 waterproof carbon fiber tripod, because my tripod usually ends up in water. My current tripod head is the Benro B4 ball head, which is solid and sturdy enough to hold a heavy lens in the wind.
This is simple – make sure you have at least two batteries (I always have three) that are fully charged when you head out. Don’t get caught without power in the prime of a perfect sunset!
RAW files are much larger than JPEGs, so you’ll want to have a card that can hold enough. I use the SanDisk Extreme PRO 32 GB SDHC UHS-II, which has a great writing speed and holds more than I ever need.
If you’re carrying lots of gear, chances are you’ll need a bag or backpack with enough space to hold it all. My favorite backpacks are made by Lowepro (my current bag is linked). They have ample padded storage, and mine has space for extra items like a first aid kit, some food, and water.
Other possible necessities include a shutter release, umbrella, and a lens cloth. We’ll talk about those as they come up in other posts.
The best equipment in the world is only as good as the photographer behind it. Too many times I’ve talked with other photographers who bought a new camera and lenses because they “maxed out” the ability of their previous kit. Not a single one of those photographers saw any improvement in their photography, and they usually end up frustrated and discouraged (with a hurting wallet, no less!). New gear is always great and can be extremely helpful, but in the end, only you can take better pictures. Better planning, composition, and editing will help you produce a better image. Up next we’ll look at some planning strategies, and rest assured, this is the one and only photo-less post. Be sure to subscribe or come back soon!